Dragon Castle

Hjalmar Hach, Luca Ricci, Lorenzo Silva
2 - 4
8 - 199
InteractionComponents & Design

First things first. Mahjong is not really that game where you pick two matching tiles from a pile until the pile is empty. That one is called Mahjong Solitaire. Mahjong is a four player game with some parallels to the western card game Rummy and its variants. Sorry for the nitpicking, sometimes I just can’t stop myself. Who am I kidding? I can never stop myself!

With that out of the way, Dragon Castle is a game based on Mahjong Solitaire. It takes the basics of the classic game and builds around it until we get a modern, Euro-style game that once more can have up to four players.

There is a story in Dragon Castle, but it’s perfunctory. Dragon Castle, once the center of power in the unnamed realm, is in decline. Its time is over. The lords of nearby realms cannibalize the venerable building for bricks to build their own castles, the most impressive of which will please the Eldest Dragon who will bless it with lasting prosperity. The story really doesn’t get in the way of the game.

How To Attract A Dragon – The Rules

Classic Castle Layout
Classic Castle Layout

Dragon Castle is based on Mahjong Solitaire.  Most of you will have played one of the zillions of video games based on this. For the few of you that didn’t, here’s how it works. The game starts with a nice, orderly pile of mahjong tiles. Usually this pile has three layers and is vaguely mountain-shaped. You then remove those tiles in matching pairs, only taking those you can pull out to the sides. No lifting! In Mahjong Solitaire all you care about is removing all the tiles. In Dragon Castle the interesting bit is what you do with them. The tiles you pick go into your own castle. That’s where they score points.

In Dragon Castle the classic “remove a pair” move is only one of your options. There is the additional restriction that one of the two tiles has to come from the top floor of the pile. Your other two options are to only take one tile from the top floor and take a Shrine as well, or to discard a single tile from the top floor and take a victory point.

The plan comes together
The plan comes together

So far, so simple, but what happens to the tiles you take? You build your own castle with them, of course! You put them on your player board. There they’ll stay minding their own business until you have placed at least four tiles of the same color in a connected area. When that happens you score the area. You gain points based on the size of the area, with four being the lower limit. To get larger areas you have to first make a few smaller areas and then connect them with the scoring move. You then turn all the tiles you scored face down, and that’s when things get interesting.

Still as part of the scoring action you may put one or two shrines on top of the tiles you just turned. They score points based on what floor they are on, up to three. To get them that high you obviously have to build a higher castle first, and to do that, the flipped stones come to your help again. As soon as you have some stones flipped any new ones you get may go on top of the flipped ones. And that’s how you build your castle nice and high.

The Sacred Roof
The Sacred Roof

That’s it for the basics of Dragon Castle. Gather stones, connect them into a large area in your castle, and build it to touch the sky. There are two additions to those basics, however, that give a big boost to the game’s replayability: Spirits and Dragons. You have one of each per game to shake things up.

The Spirits have a special ability that all players can use. All you have to do is sacrifice an unturned tile from your player board, a a Shrine from your pool, to gain the Spirit’s favor. They have powers like scoring an area of tiles with the same number instead of the same color. Or they might let you discard a tile from the Dragon Castle in addition to your regular move.

The Dragons may gift you extra points at the end of the game, if they like the castle you built. Extra points for building a Shrine next to a higher part of your castle, or for building a symmetrical castle. That last one is more tricky than it sounds. And then the game is over and the Eldest Dragon will have decided on a new, favorite hangout.

Is that dragon worth your time? The Verdict

Long story short? Absolutely. I’ve spent many hours of my life playing Mahjong Solitaire. So have many of you, even if you don’t want to admit it. Dragon Castle has everything that made Mahjong Solitaire fun, plus an actual game around it and the joy of playing with friends.

Dragon Castle sits in that sweet spot where it works with your family just as well as it works with your gamer friends. The rules are simple, strategy is not overly complex, but to win you have to put some thought into your moves.

It’s also more interactive than we expected. The description of Dragon Castle sounds like it’s still a game you play kind of solitaire. You share the central pile of tiles, but you’re main concern is building your own castle. That’s true in the first one or two games, but as soon as everyone knows what they’re doing it changes quickly. Keeping an eye on what the others are building so you don’t free the stones they want, or even so you may steal a key stone they need, is essential. It’s even better than advertised, not only do you play with up to four players but you interact with them more than in many other modern Euro-games.

Harmonious Architecture
Harmonious Architecture

You get a fair amount of replayability as well. Between the Spirit and Dragon cards and the selection of alternative layouts you won’t have to play the same game twice.

Last, but certainly not least, there are the components. If you like Azul for its pretty plastic tiles then you won’t be disappointed by Dragon Castle. The same material, but there are more of them. They are heavy enough that even clumsy, old me doesn’t accidentally tear down the castle, and very satisfying to handle. They have a very nice click when you stack them up, too. There aren’t many illustrations in the game, but they are absolutely beautiful. Player boards and cards are all pretty have a great East Asian theme that fits the game.

Dragon Castle is a great idea implemented well. Not only for people that spent hours playing Mahjong Solitaire in their school’s computer lab. Sorry, Teach!

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